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University answers questions about upcoming conference

In response to many inquiries about the Palestinian Solidarity conference coming up at the end of the month, the University has posted to its main Web site responses to commonly asked questions about the event. The Office of the Vice President for Communications shared the Q & A document with the Record.

What is the conference on Palestinian solidarity scheduled at the University of Michigan?

The conference, titled “Second National Student Conference on the Palestine Solidarity Movement,” has been planned by a U-M student organization to be held on the Ann Arbor campus in mid-October.

Who is sponsoring the conference?

The conference is sponsored by a registered U-M student organization called SAFE (Students Allied for Freedom and Equality), in accordance with University policies. (

What kind of funding does SAFE receive from the University?

SAFE, like all other U-M student organizations, applied to the Michigan Student Assembly (MSA) for funding for general activities throughout the year. SAFE received a $250 annual funding allocation from MSA. These funds are generated from student fees, and the allocation to this student group is consistent with the funding levels provided to hundreds of other student organizations. A U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down in 2000 (Southworth) requires that such funding be allocated in a manner that is “viewpoint neutral.”

The MSA funding is the only University-related funding allocation. No funding has been given to SAFE by the University from state or federal sources.

What are your policies for registering student organizations?

Any enrolled U-M students may organize and register their organization with the Michigan Student Assembly. There are currently more than 800 registered student organizations. The process is one of registration, rather than recognition. The registration process is neutral regarding the goals or focus of the organization. (

What are your policies regarding scheduling of events in University buildings?

Any registered student group may reserve available University facilities for its events. The reservation process is neutral as to the content of the event. Where there is a fee for reserving a room, student groups pay the standard fees just as would any other University office or outside organization holding an event on campus. (

What is the stated purpose of the conference?

The conference Web site outlines issues it will consider, including Palestinian solidarity and divestment of stock of companies doing business in Israel. (

Does the University of Michigan endorse the views of the conference organizers?

The agenda of the conference represents the views of the organizers and not the official position of the University of Michigan.

Will the conference take place as scheduled?

Yes. The conference has been organized by a registered student group according to the U-M’s standard process. The University does not evaluate the content of the ideas being presented before deciding whether to allow an event to be held on campus. It is one of the fundamental goals of the University to create an environment where a wide range of ideas—whether popular or controversial—can be freely explored. This basic commitment to freedom of inquiry and speech has been articulated, among other avenues, in the U-M Policy on Freedom of Speech and Expression in 1988. (

Has the University screened the speakers invited to participate in this conference?

No. It would be both unlawful, as well as a violation of the University’s policies on freedom of speech and expression, to do so. In order to allocate student fees and space according to the guidelines articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court, the University does not look into the viewpoint of speakers invited by student groups, nor does it review the content of their planned speech. In particular, the First Amendment has been interpreted by the courts to prohibit prior censorship of speech.

Will the conference be open to all?

According to U-M policies, programs that are open to the public must be open to all, regardless of viewpoint. The October conference on Palestinian solidarity has been structured to require advance registration. Anyone who wishes to register may do so, up to the physical limit of the facilities in which the conference is being held. U-M staff members are working with the student organizers to ensure that there is a clear understanding, and proper implementation, of University policies concerning access, speech and expression at such events.

What will you do to ensure the safety of students and others in connection with the conference?

U-M’s Department of Public Safety is working with the organizers to make sure there are appropriate security provisions.

Will the University of Michigan consider divestment from Israel?

The process by which divestment decisions have been reached in the past has set a very high bar for this sort of decision. The conditions of widespread campus support and extensive review have not been realized in this case. Indeed, in the past, faculty review has only been instituted after the emergence of very broad support. Therefore, U-M President Mary Sue Coleman has stated she does not plan to make a recommendation to the Regents, nor to ask for appointment of a faculty-led review committee.

What were the situations in which the University previously divested?

The Regents voted to divest stock of companies doing business in South Africa in 1983. In 2000, they voted to divest stock in tobacco manufacturing companies. In both instances consistent, sustained and broad-based support was expressed by the campus community over a period of many years. Faculty-led committees were appointed to conduct extensive research, and they prepared a compelling case that such investments were antithetical to the basic mission and values of the University. (For background on tobacco divestment, see

What are the circumstances surrounding an e-mail about the conference that circulated to the campus community on Sept. 25 and 26?

A large number of U-M faculty, staff and students were sent an e-mail message on Sept. 25 and 26 under the heading “invitation to upcoming divestment conference.” The language in the e-mail message was highly offensive to many members of the campus community. The message appeared as if it came from the student group SAFE, but in fact the SAFE return address was falsified.

What is the status of the investigation into the fraudulent e-mail message?

U-M’s Information Technology Central Services (ITCS) conducted an investigation to determine the origin of the message, consistent with University policies and with the support of the U-M Department of Public Safety. By examining detailed computer records, the investigators were able to determine that the message was not sent from any U-M e-mail accounts, including those of the student and student organization named in the message.

When e-mail is sent from one point on the Internet to another, it can follow a complex path as it travels through multiple mail servers. In this case, the senders used an unsecured server known as an “open relay” in order to help hide their identity. Despite the best efforts of the investigating team, it is possible the University may not be able to determine who really sent the messages.

How were the senders of the fraudulent message able to obtain campus addresses without the help of University computing staff?

The senders obtained hundreds of faculty, staff and student e-mail addresses from public sources such as departmental web pages or the University’s online directory. It is unknown precisely how many faculty, staff and students received the message.

Did the message violate University policy?

The message violated University computing policies in two ways: in the falsification of the identity of the sender, and in the unauthorized, mass distribution to the campus community. (

What are you doing to ensure continuing open dialogue on all of these topics?

It is essential that individuals be able to explore sensitive topics within this diverse campus community while according one another the highest levels of tolerance and mutual respect. U-M student leaders have risen to the challenge by proposing a series of student-organized events promoting dialogue, education and understanding about political issues affecting the student body.

Where can I find the statement that President Coleman issued concerning this conference and associated issues?

The statement can be found on the web at

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